[Photo of A. E. MacDonald]

Contact the Director

Office of the Director
NOAA/Earth System Research Laboratory
325 Broadway
Boulder, CO 80305-3328

Phone: 303-497-6378
FAX: 303-497-6951

More Information

Curriculum Vitae

About the Director

Dr. Alexander "Sandy" MacDonald is Chief Science Advisor for NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, and Director of the Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL) in Boulder, Colorado. In February of 2014, he was selected as the American Meteorological Society (AMS) President-Elect and will take over as the Society’s president in January of 2015.

A Montana native, Dr. MacDonald’s interest in weather began at age eight, when his mother gave him a subscription to Scientific American, and he became fascinated with a nearby weather disaster. He earned Bachelor of Science degrees in Mathematics and Physics from Montana State, before joining the U.S. Air Force as an officer, serving from 1967 to 1971.

After the service, Dr. MacDonald earned both his Master of Science degree and Ph.D. in Meteorology from the University of Utah. Knowing that he wanted to work in the atmospheric sciences and determining that NOAA conducted the best science in this area, Dr. MacDonald sought a position at the newly formed agency (1970), beginning his career with NOAA’s National Weather Service’s Western Region in 1973. While at the NWS, he received a bronze medal for his work on the automated weather information system.

Dr. MacDonald’s leadership role in NOAA began in the 1980s when he led a group within NOAA’s research laboratories that developed and tested systems to bring data streams and models together for operational forecasters (PROFS). He headed the research and development group that later became the Forecast Systems Laboratory (FSL), until his present assignment. In 1993 he received the Department of Commerce Gold Medal Award for his role in the development of the National Weather Service AWIPS (Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System) model.

Dr. MacDonald’s contributions to the science of weather and climate include bringing parallel computing to FSL, which led to the development, installation, and operation of a High-Performance Computing System called JET; developing a new, unique mesoscale weather prediction model; and originating the idea of diagnosis of three-dimensional water vapor using a GPS (Global Positioning System). His work in the White House with Vice President Al Gore to start GLOBE, an educational web-based program involving classrooms worldwide in atmospheric sciences, earned him the Distinguished Presidential Rank Award in 1998.

In the new century, Dr. MacDonald invented a unique way of showcasing NOAA science. His Science On a Sphere® – a multimedia system using high-speed computers, advanced imaging techniques, and strategically placed projectors to display full-color animated images of satellite, geophysical, and astronomical data on a sphere – is being placed in museums and science centers across the globe. More recently, Dr. MacDonald is leading efforts within NOAA to use Unmanned Aircraft Systems to improve the accuracy of weather and climate predictions.

In the last decade, Dr. MacDonald served as OAR’s Deputy Assistant Administrator for six years while directing the Earth System Research Laboratory. He was awarded a Meritorious Presidential Rank Award for his invention of Science On a Sphere® in 2007 and a Distinguished Presidential Rank Award for his leadership of the global modeling efforts at the Earth System Research Laboratory as well as two other Distinguished Presidential Rank Awards. He is still fascinated with weather and is dedicated to improving forecasts at all time scales.


Ph.D. in Meteorology (Minor in Computer Science), University of Utah, 1975
M.S. in Meteorology, University of Utah, 1973
B.S. in Mathematics/Physics, Montana State University, 1967
USAF Weather Course Certificate in Meteorology, St. Louis University, 1968


2013 - Present
Chief Science Advisor, OAR and
Director, Earth System Research Laboratory, NOAA
2006 - 2013
Deputy Assistant Administrator, Laboratories and Cooperative Institutes, OAR
Director, Earth System Research Laboratory, NOAA
1988 - 2006
Director, Forecast Systems Laboratory, NOAA
1983 - 1988
Director, Regional Observing and Forecasting Services (PROFS), ERL, NOAA
1980 - 1982
Chief, PROFS Exploratory Development Group, ERL, NOAA
1975 - 1980
Techniques Improvement Meteorologist, Scientific Services Division, Western Region NWS, NOAA
1973 - 1975
University of Utah - Research Fellowship
1971 - 1973
University of Utah - Instructor, Synoptic Meteorology Laboratory
1967 - 1971
Officer, U.S. Air Force


Fellow American Meteorological Society
Fellow Colorado State University Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere (CIRA)
National Weather Association


Dr. MacDonald has published in atmospheric modeling, statistics, dynamics, and meteorological systems. His interests are applications of science and technology to improve operational forecasting.


Patent #6,937,210, "Projecting Images on a Sphere", Alexander E. MacDonald
Patent #6,421,010, "Atmospheric Sondes and Method for Tracking", R.B. Chadwick and A.E. MacDonald
Executive Committee Member, AMS; AMS Fellow
Developed GLOBE Program (a Vice-Presidential Initiative)
Councilor, AMS three-year appointment
1983 - Present
Lecturer at numerous AMS chapters throughout the United States.
1987 - Present
Member, AMS Committee on Aviation, Range, and Aerospace Meteorology
1984 - Present
Member, Panel on Mesoscale Research, NRC
1988 - Present
Fellow with the Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere - Colorado State University
1983 - 1988
Set up workstations to allow demonstrations of PROFS' unique capabilities to a large number of federal agencies, e.g., FAA, NWS, NESS, NESDIS, AF, AWS, DOD, and numerous universities.


President Elect American Meteorological Society (AMS)
Presidential Rank Award; Distinguished
Co-recipient of NOAA Bronze Medal for "Developing a NOAA Administrative Order on Scientific Integrity Policy and accompanying Handbook on Scientific Misconduct"
Finalist for the Service To America Awards
Presidential Rank Award; Meritorious
Tech Museum Laureate Award
Presidential Rank Award; Meritorious
The Federal 100 Award
Presidential Rank Award; Distinguished
Department of Commerce Gold Medal for his leadership in Technology Transfer
Department of Commerce Bronze Medal for his Accomplishments in the National Weather Service Automation of Field Operations and Services Program